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First all-civilian crew launches a trip to the International Space Station

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By Funnyvot Auditorial - - 5 Mins Read
On Friday, four private people made history by becoming the first all-civilian crew to launch into orbit on a totally private mission to the International Space Station. The mission, coordinated by the Houston-based business Axiom Space, comes after Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos made two high-profile flights to suborbital space last year. The voyage, arranged by Houston-based Axiom Space, took off at 11:17 a.m. on Friday. EST from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. After reaching orbit, crewmember Michael López-Alegra, a veteran NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom Space as the vice president of business development, radioed mission controllers, "That was a hell of a trip." The Axiom mission, codenamed Ax-1, isn't the first time an all-civilian crew has been to space. Last year, SpaceX achieved this milestone when it flew four private citizens on a three-day orbital joyride on its Crew Dragon spaceship. However, this will be the first time an all-civilian crew visits the space station, a significant milestone for both space tourism and the fast-growing commercial spaceflight industry. The launch came after wealthy entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos made two high-profile visits to suborbital space last year. It's also the latest illustration of how human spaceflight, which was long restricted to governments and their space agencies, is now thriving as a private venture. According to Derek Hassman, Axiom Space's operations director, what distinguishes Axiom's voyage distinct from prior trips with private persons to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station is that it won't just be a single paying client accompanied by a group of experienced astronauts. "It's quite different in the case of the Ax-1 mission in that the entire crew [is] unaffiliated with any government," Hassman said in a preflight news briefing on Thursday. López-Alegra is leading a team of four men on the Ax-1 mission. Three paying customers accompany the former astronaut on the journey: Larry Connor, an American real estate investor, Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman, and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli jet pilot. When the mission was first announced in January, López-Alegra said, "This assemblage of pioneers – the first space crew of its sort — represents a defining moment in humanity's eternal drive of exploration and advancement." The astronauts took to the skies in SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was launched atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket. The booster's reusable first stage safely landed upright on the deck of a drone ship moored off the coast of Florida less than 10 minutes after liftoff. The newly returned rocket stage, according to SpaceX officials, has been used five times, while the Crew Dragon capsule carrying the Ax-1 crew is also recycled hardware, making its third voyage to space. The Ax-1 crew will now go to the International Space Station for more than 20 hours. The foursome will spend eight days at the orbiting outpost, taking part in a variety of science experiments and philanthropic undertakings, including medical research for the Mayo Clinic and the Montreal Children's Hospital. What it's like to stay on the International Space Station The astronauts aboard the Axiom-1 spacecraft aren't the first private persons to visit the International Space Station. However, this is the first time NASA has been a part of a trip like this. The space station is divided into components created by the project's several partner countries, with the United States and Russia having the largest segments. Previous visitors arrived aboard Russian Soyuz rockets and spent the most of their time on the Russian side of the station. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is traveling to the International Space Station for a 20.5-hour journey. The Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule that is an improved version of SpaceX's first Dragon spacecraft, which has carried cargo numerous times. It's nearly the same size as NASA's Apollo spacecraft, which sent people to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Earlier NASA capsules, like as Mercury and Gemini, were much smaller. According to The Associated Press, Connor, Pathy, and Stibbe each paid $55 million for the experience. The Ax-1 mission has been dubbed a "precursor" to commercializing low-Earth orbit by Axiom Space. The company plans to conduct at least three more commercial flights to the ISS and eventually build its own privately-funded space station in orbit, according to the corporation.